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Businesses oppose Wisconsin clean energy plan

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Business groups are fighting Gov. Jim Doyle’s clean energy plan that calls for increasing the use of renewable fuels and opens the door to nuclear power, saying the new mandates will weaken Wisconsin’s already struggling manufacturing sector.

Doyle’s plan was introduced in the Legislature on Wednesday and the governor discussed it Thursday at a news conference in Madison.

He and other proponents argue it will improve the environment and create thousands of green-energy jobs.

“Other states and other countries have moved far down the road in building a green energy economy,” Doyle said. “We have to make sure that Wisconsin is well positioned as we move forward.”

But the state’s largest business lobbying group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, says the new mandates will increase energy costs and hurt businesses, especially large electricity users.

“With 9 percent unemployment, we should be focusing on ideas to create jobs like cutting taxes, controlling spending, controlling red-tape, and clamping down on frivolous lawsuits,” said Scott Manley, director of environmental policy for WMC.

Twenty-three of the state’s largest business groups, representing contractors, home builders and fuel retailers, sent Doyle and lawmakers a letter last month citing a study that said the proposal will result in a loss of more than 43,000 jobs and cost billions of dollars.

Doyle said that study by the conservative interest group Wisconsin Policy Research Institute was faulty, in part because it looked at an earlier version of the plan that had rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from major sources. That provision was not in the final bill.

Citing a study by Doyle’s Office of Energy Independence, the governor said the bill would actually create 15,000 jobs by 2025.

“Anybody who doesn’t think this creates jobs is simply not looking around,” Doyle said.

Under the plan, dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, 25 percent of the state’s energy must come from wind, solar, biomass or other renewable sources by 2025. The current goal is 10 percent by 2015 and at the end of 2008 the state was at nearly 5 percent. Wisconsin currently relies heavily on coal, which is a major source of greenhouse gases that contribute heavily to rising global temperatures.

It will cost $16 billion through 2025 to comply with the renewable energy mandate, according to WPRI. The emission stands will cost about $1,000 for every new car sold, the report said.

Environmental groups deny those estimates, saying they are based on flawed economics.

Additionally, Doyle’s proposal would make building codes more strict to increase energy efficiency, restrict idling of freight trucks to reduce pollution and adopt vehicle emissions standards similar to many other states, including California. The proposal also sets a goal of reducing energy consumption 2 percent by 2015.

The bill would remove Wisconsin’s ban on nuclear energy, which has been in place for more than two decades.

That provision drew opposition from some peace and anti-nuclear groups that said renewable energy technologies are faster, cheaper, and cleaner than nuclear power.

Doyle said no one expects a nuclear power plant to be built in Wisconsin any time soon.

“I don’t think anybody should be too alarmed one way or the other on this,” Doyle said. “All this is saying is we should at least consider it.”

The proposal, being introduced by state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, will pit environmentalists against the state’s business community in what is expected to be one of the most contentious issues taken on by the Democratic-controlled Legislature this year.

The bill is closely modeled off of recommendations released in 2008 by a global warming task force. Doyle created the task force to find ways to combat climate change in Wisconsin, saying higher temperatures could cause drought, destroy wetlands and reduce already-low Lake Michigan levels.